Housesteads Bastle

Has been described as a Certain Bastle

There are masonry footings remains

NameHousesteads Bastle
Alternative NamesSouth Gate
Historic CountryNorthumberland
Modern AuthorityNorthumberland
1974 AuthorityNorthumberland
Civil ParishBardon Mill

A small bastle house was built against the east guard-tower of the south gate, probably in the moss-trooping days (Birley, 1952).

Bastle attached to south wall of Housesteads Roman Fort. Sub-rectangular building c.8.5m x 7m built onto south face of east tower of Roman south gate. Walls of re-used Roman squared stone 1.1m thick, standing c1.5m high. Doorway with chamfered jambs on west, with splayed loops in west, south and east walls, the last partly blocked by a stone external stair. In the north wall a doorway with chamfered jambs opens from the adjacent Roman gate tower into the bastle; later corn-drying kiln built into the tower. Interior excavated and cleared. Fabric repaired and conserved (Ryder 1990).

Part of scheduled monument number 26059, scheduling revised on 14th July 1997. A bastle house was built over the remains of the east side of the south gateway of the fort in the 16th century. It survives as an upstanding stone feature, rebuilt with Roman masonry and projects out to the south of the fort. Bastle houses are defended farmhouses, usually with an upstairs doorway and no windows in the lower storey. The upper stories were lived in while the lower one was used as an animal byre. Bastle houses often occur in small groups and are characteristic of the 16th and early 17th century, being a response to the cattle raiding exploits of the border reivers (EH 2002).

The ground floor of a bastle survives outside the south gate of the Roman fort. Unusually, the east guard chamber of the Roman gate was incorporated to form a second room. The original Roman door to the guardchamber has been blocked up and replaced by a connecting door inserted in the south wall of the chamber. The walls of the main room survive to between 1.2m and 2.6m high and are upto 1.2m thick; much Roman stone has been reused. The ground floor doorway is on the west side with a single rebate and chemfered jambs, plus holes on each side for a locking bar

The connecting door to the guardchamber is similar but lacks the locking bar holes. Narrow, internally-splacyed loop windows or vents can be seen in the south, east and west walls of the main room, with a similar loop in the north wall of the guardchamber. The main room has a flagged floor. Inside the guardchamber is a corn-drying kiln. The upper floor to the bastle was reached by a stairway against the east wall. It was a secondary featre, as it blocks one of the vents. Only eight steps remain. The bastle may have been built by the Armstrong clan, or perhaps an individual landowner such as Nicholas Crane or Hugh Crowhall.

Two later structural phases have been identified. In the first, when the building was still occupied, the stairway was added along the east wall as well as perhaps an apron of flagging against the north-east corner. The second phase was that of abandonment, when the drying kiln was added. The bastle was almost certainly already derelict and uninhabited by the early 18th century as it does not appear in Stukeley's sketch and would not have been required once the farmholdings at Housesteads were consolidated into a single tenancy centred on a new farmhouse. The bastle was investigated by Hodgson in 1830-31, and was completely emptied by Clayton in 1852. The external stairway was probably uncovered by Clayton and planned by Bosanquet, and was buried by a 1.3m - 2.2m wide turf-covered retaining wall the length of the bastle and remained until 1986. The drying kiln was dismantled and then reinstated by the Ministry of Works in 1956 to allow the guardchamber walls to be consolidated. In 1984 the custodian's hut, which had stood inside the main room of the bastle, was removed so the internal walls could be better seen. The bastle is one of the best surviving early-modern structures associated with the fort. Housestead's recorded links with the Armstrong family, perhaps the last of the reiving lineages, and the preservation of a collection of 17th century documents relating to the Armstrongs' tenure (NRO 2219.70) further enhances the potential significance of the bastle, as does the exceptional preservation of features associated with contemporary land use in the area surrounding the fort. (Northumberland HER)

Gatehouse Comments

Interestingly this 'defensive' building was built outside the wall of the Roman fort, although the function as a byre house, and the need for cattle to have access to grass, may explain this. Housestead Roman Fort is part of the 'Frontiers of the Roman Empire (Hadrian's Wall)' World Heritage site 430.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

Not Listed

Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceNY790687
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Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All Rights Reserved
Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All Rights Reserved
Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All Rights Reserved
Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All Rights Reserved
Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All Rights Reserved

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  • Rushworth, A., 2009. Housesteads Ropman Fort - the Grandest Station: Excavations and survey at Housestead, 1954-95 (London: English Heritage) p. 330-2 Download via ADS
  • Ryder, Peter, 2004, 'Towers and bastles in Northumberland National Park' in Frodsham, P., Archaeology in the Northumberland National Park (CBA Research report 136) p. 262-271
  • Dodds, John F., 1999, Bastions and Belligerents (Newcastle upon Tyne: Keepdate Publishing) p. 376-7
  • Salter, Mike, 1997, The Castles and Tower Houses of Northumberland (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 117 (slight)
  • Crow, J.G. and Rushworth, A., 1994, Housesteads Roman fort and its environs (National Trust Archaeological Survey) p. 35-6
  • Rowland, T.H., 1987 (reprint1994), Medieval Castles, Towers, Peles and Bastles of Northumberland (Sandhill Press) p. 46
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2 p. 359
  • Graham, Frank, 1976, The Castles of Northumberland (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Frank Graham) p. 216
  • Ramm, H.G., MacDowall, R.W. and Mercer, E. 1970, Shielings and Bastles (London: HMSO) p. 82 no. 27


  • Christopherson, R., 2011, 'Northumberland bastles: origin and distribution' Medieval Settlement Research Vol. 26 p. 21-33 (listed in appendix)
  • Whitworth, A.M., 1990, 'The Housesteads Bastle' Archaeologia Aeliana (ser5) Vol. 18 p. 127-9

Guide Books

  • Crow, J.G., 1989, Housesteads Roman Fort (London: English Heritage) p. 5-6, 50-1
  • Birley, E. 1952, Housesteads Roman Fort (HMSO) p. 9, 11


  • English Heritage, 2002, Housesteads Roman Fort Conservation Plan, Volume 2 Gazetteer p. 172-4
  • Ryder, P.F., 1990, Bastles and Towers in the Northumberland National Park (Report for Northumberland National Park Authority) p. 11